An old topic, which has cropped up on ADS-L in the past few days. I’ll try to sort out that discussion in a while, but first a quick look back at (some) postings on the topic, in chronological sequence.
Archive for the ‘Anaphora’ Category
It started with this One Big Happy cartoon, clipped from a newspaper and sent to me by Benita Bendon Campbell:
From a site with “20 Jokes That Only Intellectuals Will Understand”, one that I had not heard before, appealing to both linguists and programmers.
19. The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread.. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
Ok, there’s an ellipsis, of an indefinite: a dozen of something. But what? There are two candidates in the context: the close eggs, and the discourse-topical loaf of bread. In the joke, the programmer’s wife intends the first, but the programmer supplies the second, as the punch line indicates:
The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.
Noted in an episode of the old tv show The Rifleman, this bit of dialogue. The main character, Lucas McCain, has just explained to his son, Mark, that Mark is quite a psychologist (after Mark’s deft handling of difficult situation). Lucas explains (in brief) what a psychologist is, and Mark struggles to pronounce the word psychologist. Mark:
I may be one, but I’ll never be able to pronounce it.
Ok, one ‘a psychologist’ plus it ‘the word psychologist‘. Use, mention, and an anaphoric connection between them.
The dad’s “I don’t know” conveys that he’s unsure of his opinion on the subject (whatever that is), so he says “Ask Mom”, meaning ‘Ask Mom what she thinks”, with ellipsis of the Wh-clause object of ask, but with understood reference (within that object) to the mother. But Jeremy takes the other possible reading, involving reference to the father — i.e., ‘Ask Mom what I think’ — which, though possible, is unlikely in context (how should the mother know what the father thinks, when he doesn’t know himself?).
Back in January I looked at a racy dangler in final position in its clause, where the referent for the missing subject was picked up from a combination of the subject of the clause and an oblique object in the clause; the antecedent was split between two different elements in the clause. Now this morning in a KQED Perspectives column by Steven Moss (“Transformation”), another split-antecedent dangler, less racy and now in clause-initial position.
In ad copy for the Michael Lucas raunchy gay porn film The Wetter the Better, this summary of some hot-hot man-on-man action (not perhaps to everyone’s taste, but this posting is about syntax and semantics, not watersports, as piss play is delicately referred to in some contexts):
Morgan Black spices up his sex life with Christopher Daniels by soaking him in piss before fucking each other.
Two sentence-final subjectless predicational adjuncts there, and they both need something to supply the referent of the missing subject (they are SPARs): by soaking him with piss, which picks up a referent for its missing subject from the subject of the main clause, Morgan Black; and before fucking each other, which the writer of the copy clearly intended to pick up a referent for its missing subject from the *combination of* the subject of the main clause (Morgan Black again) and the oblique object in that clause, Christopher Daniels. The first exercise in referent-finding is just the default Subject Rule for these things, so there’s no issue. The second exercise in referent-finding is non-default, requiring before fucking each other to be interpreted as ‘before they fuck each other’, where they refers to the set-theoretic union of Black and Daniels (and the semantics of each other then tells you that Black will fuck Daniels and Daniels will fuck Black, as indeed happens in the flick — this is called flip-fucking in the trade). I understand the writer’s intent, but the non-default SPAR is beyond my comfort zone in this case. A dangler too far.
From the Economist of 12/3/11, p. 43, in “Marijuana in California and Colorado: Highs and laws” [the magazine is fond of jokey titles], after a long first paragraph about medical marijuana boom in Colorado:
While it is allowed in some form in 16 states and Washington, DC, Colorado is the leader in trying to make medicinal pot a legitimate business.
Now, (medical) marijuana is highly topical when this sentence comes along in the discourse. so that’s almost surely the referent of the subject pronoun it in the initial subordinate clause. Nevertheless, I expected this pronoun to be cataphoric, preferably with its referent picked up by the subject of the main clause — but that’s Colorado (where Colorado is paired with 16 states and the District of Columbia), and not a NP referring to marijuana. So I had a brief moment of unfulfilled expectation that wasn’t ironed out until medicinal pot came along, embedded within the main clause.
My reaction to this explicit pronoun subject it is much like many people’s reaction to zero subjects in initial sentence adverbials, in initial SPARs (subjectless predcative adjuncts requiring a referent for the missing subject). Sometimes the referent is given right there in the preceding context, but still we expect the zero to be cataphoric, preferably to the subject of the main clause.
Posted by Victor Steinbok on ADS-L:
When it was announced that Romney will “unveil” his VP pick Paul Ryan on/in front of USS Wisconsin, I knew someone was going to say it. And [political commentator] Steve Benen did not disappoint–within minutes, his post on the Ryan pick [on the Maddow blog] included this line:
The announcement will be in front of the U.S.S. Wisconsin – which just happens to be Ryan’s home state.
(Actually, Benen was quoting Domenico Montaro and Mark Murray on NBCNews, here.)
Victor noted that the meaning was clear, but still the sentence seemed problematic to him, adding that “the number of examples of this type is not negligible”.